US Foreign Relations and Latin America

Marc Becker's picture

US Foreign Relations

in Latin America


Course Basics              


Karp 005

MWF 1:50-2:55



Elena McGrath

Office Hours:

Lippman 110 or Zoom

Monday 12:30-1:30,

Wednesday 3:00-5:00

Other times too, please make an appointment



O’Brien, Thomas F. Making the Americas: The United States and Latin America from the Age of Revolutions to the Era of Globalization. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2007.


Soluri, John. Banana Cultures: Agriculture, Consumption, and Environmental Change in Honduras and the United States. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006.


Chomsky, Aviva. Linked Labor Histories: New England, Colombia, and the Making of a Global Working Class. Duke University Press, 2008.


I recognize that course materials may represent a financial burden on you. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact me and I will do what I can to help.


Course Overview & Objectives


This is not really a class about diplomats. This is a course about the shared histories, cultural exchanges, and networks of power that have shaped the Americas. Since the 19th century, the United States has positioned itself as the local “superpower” nation, often with disastrous effects for the rest of the hemisphere. There was nothing inevitable about this relationship, however, and in this class we will look at how actors in the US and in Latin America constructed and contested networks of power from the 19th century through our current moment, from the Banana Wars to the Drug Wars. We will identify hot spots and moments of transition that helped create the globalized world of today, with a focus on two case studies: the United Fruit Company in Honduras and addictive substances like coal, coffee, and cocaine in Colombia. In the process, you will learn a few different lenses or methodologies that historians can use to ask questions, gaining exposure to the tactics and tools of environmental, cultural, commodity, and labor history.






What Skills and Enduring Understandings will you get out of this class

Long after you take this class, you will have the tools to ask:

What are the structures of oppression that underpin the world we live in?

How have people sought to change these structures?

What were some of the problems that they faced?

What can we learn from this history?

What do I want to do about it?

You will use the following skills:

  • Close Reading
  • Using Primary and Secondary Sources
  • Project management
  • Synthesizing and Evaluating Ideas
  • Supporting Arguments with Evidence
  • Crafting Narratives for an Audience
  • Writing Persuasively
  • Teamwork



Course Format


The teaching methods used in this course will include: lectures, student presentations, class and small group discussions, and individual and group activities relevant to the topics at hand.


Course Technologies


Preparation, Participation and Attendance

Students are responsible for all material covered in class meetings and assigned readings. We will cover a substantial amount of material in what seems like a short period of time. Therefore, adequate preparation for class (completion of assigned readings and projects), regular attendance and active participation are essential for the success of this class as a whole and for your individual success in it. This class only meets thirty times. Missing three classes is equivalent to missing ten percent of the course. Students who are unable to attend class should contact the instructor prior to the absence and obtain content of the class from other students. While I expect you to both attend class and participate in assignments, I also respect your right as an adult to determine when and how you do so.

 Practical Details

Contacting Me

I am available to answer questions and troubleshoot problems in class, in office hours, and over email. My pronouns are she/her/hers and you may call me Elena or Professor McGrath in person or email communication. In general, if you need something quick or have a question that is yes/no, grabbing me after class or shooting me an email is a great way to get my attention. I don’t answer emails at all hours but I try to get back to everyone within 24-48 hours.


If you have a more complicated question, please set up a time to meet in office hours. You can make an appointment by following this link. I prefer you set a time than just drop by, this helps me plan my day more effectively.


Your Librarian

The librarian assigned to this class is Lindsay Bush. She can be reached at and can help you troubleshoot research, getting access to documents and all library things.







Union College is committed to providing equitable access to learning opportunities for all students. The Accommodative Services Office, located in Reamer Campus Center, is the campus office that collaborates with students who have disabilities to provide and/or arrange reasonable accommodations. If you have, or think you may have, a disability (e.g., mental health, attentional, learning, autism spectrum disorders, chronic health, traumatic brain injury and concussions, vision, hearing, mobility, or speech impairments), please contact Accommodative Services at 518-388-8785 or to arrange a confidential discussion regarding equitable access and reasonable accommodations. Please also let me know as soon as possible so I can collaborate with you in this class.

 alternative testing arrangements.



  Content Warning

As with the world we live in today, the societies that we will be exploring carry the marks of colonialism, oppression, and violent forms of exclusion. In order to better understand their histories and ours, our class discussions will sometimes deal with difficult topics including rape, slavery, abuse and torture. I do not expect everyone to be able to easily talk about these issues already, and one of my goals in this class is that you will leave the semester with more tools for confronting difficult subjects and relating to others who are having difficulty doing so. Before these discussions I will ask you to consider that your own emotional and intellectual reactions to these topics may not be shared by every other student. Please enter these discussions humbly.



Our individual differences enrich and enhance our understanding of one another and of the world around us.


This class welcomes the perspectives of all ethnicities, genders, religions, ages, sexual orientations, disabilities, socioeconomic backgrounds, regions, and nationalities. I encourage you to learn and use your fellow students’ names and preferred pronouns.



          Honor Code         

Union College recognizes the need to create an environment of mutual trust as part of its educational mission. Responsible participation in an academic community requires respect for and acknowledgement of the thoughts and work of others, whether expressed in the present or in some distant time and place.



Matriculation at the College is taken to signify implicit agreement with the Academic Honor Code, available at It is each student's responsibility to ensure that submitted work is his or her own and does not involve any form of academic misconduct.

Your Wellbeing


Nothing in this class is as important as your mental and emotional health.


Union College urges you to make yourself--your own health and well-being--your priority throughout this ten-week term and your career here. It is important to recognize stressors you may be facing, which can be personal, emotional, physical, financial, mental, or academic. Sleep, exercise, and connecting with others can be strategies to help you flourish at Union. If you are having difficulties maintaining your well-being, feel free to contact me and/or pursue other resources, such as Student Health and Counseling or the Office of Health Promotion.


Students are expected to ask their course instructors for clarification regarding, but not limited to, collaboration, citations, and plagiarism. Ignorance is not an excuse for breaching academic integrity.



In this class you are encouraged and allowed to work together on projects. Unless explicitly noted otherwise, it is acceptable to consult with others but the work you submit should be in your own words and represent your own effort





Assessments and Assignments